Letter: Amherst Media Seeks ARPA Funds to Support Construction of New Facility


Architect's rendering of proposed new Amherst Media building at Main Street and Gray. South Elevation. (Prior to final required changes). Photo: amherstma.gov

The following letter was sent to Town Manager Paul Bockelman on March 7, 2024.

I am writing this letter to you regarding your upcoming decisions on the allocation of the Phase II ARPA Funding, and Amherst Media’s request to be one of the funded recipients.

Established in 1976, Amherst Media is a dynamic, community-driven, nonprofit public access information, communication, and technology center in Amherst. We educate the public about local events and decision-making by filming and broadcasting government, school, and public events. We film and broadcast nonprofit, educational, and cultural events and offer media coverage on local happenings.

We provide training, support, and technology for nonprofits and residents to create and broadcast their own programming, giving disadvantaged people access to free speech through current media technology, and promoting public discourse on important issues.

We also offer hands-on career training to 45 student interns annually, archive films to preserve town history, and advocate for community media access. We serve the 39,814 residents of Amherst and the local nonprofits serving them, as both producers and consumers of our media, and center the under-represented voices of BIPOC, LGBTQ people, women, youth, and people with low incomes.

While processing the archives of Amherst Media, it became evident that prior to Amherst Media’s 1991 lease of the electric building at 246 College Street, the organization had been denied every decade since its 1976 inception and sometimes more than once in a ten- year span, their attempt to relocate within town owned and occupied facilities, including the Bangs Center, the schools, Jones Library and non-used publicly owned buildings.

In 2011 the landlord, Eversource, ended our 20 year lease, wanting to use the building for themselves. Unable to find another site meeting our facility needs, Amherst Media purchased land and launched a capital campaign to build a new downtown facility at Main and Gray Streets, near a bus stop and two colleges and walking distance from middle and high schools. This site will increase resident access and offer community meeting and performance space and a computer lab, podcasting studio, and TV studio, all within the Downtown Cultural District. The Board of Directors felt the need for ownership of our facility was paramount to the sustainability of the organization.

The process to construct the new building since 2011 has been met with numerous hurdles and obstacles. The largest was the pandemic. Like so many other businesses, both for profit and non-profit, the closures of services and revenue generating opportunities hurt the financial stability of Amherst Media. However, unlike other non-profits in Amherst, Amherst Media was not selected by state officials to receive financial assistance. This exclusion continues with the priorities for the town’s local distribution of Community Development Funds, locking Amherst Media out, even in the capital expenditures component. The only funds allocated by the town to Amherst Media since its inception is a one time Community Preservation Act grant to begin the digital archiving of the town’s visual history.

Additionally, due to state laws, after two years of ownership, if there is no movement to build on the purchased site, non-profits must pay real estate taxes. Due to delays and the pandemic, Amherst Media has paid over $90,000 in real estate taxes to the Town of Amherst, and will continue to do so until construction begins.

During and after the pandemic the disconnection/cancellation of cable subscriptions adversely affected our revenue stream. Throughout the COVID period, Amherst Media continued to provide critical coverage of governmental meetings and public service announcements, informing the isolated community residents and helping to connect the Town Government and local organizations to the greater population.

While we had managed to stay at the 246 College Street building until two years ago, ending 31 years occupancy, we had to move to a temporary site, one half the size of our previous location, continuing programming without large enough production, training or meeting spaces.

Amherst Media’s current situation is that we have secured the Local Historic District’s Certificate of Appropriateness as well as the Site Plan Review and Building Permit. We are in the process of selecting a general contractor, awaiting upcoming construction bids. While we have secured funding from foundations, grants and donations, we expect to still need to raise between $300,000-$500,000. The forthcoming bids will dictate our needs.

ARPA Funds:
Approximately $4.8 million of the almost $12 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds awarded to the Town of Amherst remains to be allocated. Uses suggested by former Finance Director Sean Mangano, were for round two funds to include community grants to nonprofits which “contribute to the broader community.” In late June, early July 2023, the Town Manager solicited community suggestions on which non-profits might receive the funds. Many letters of support and in-person testimony were given in support of funding Amherst Media

Working directly with 75-100 residents and serving thousands of viewers we cannot accurately count, Amherst Media seeks support to amplify the voices of Amherst residents, especially those who are underprivileged and underrepresented. We give them film and broadcast media training, access to technology to create their own films shared with our community, media coverage and filming of their events and local news, and access to viewing our town’s school and government meetings, public events, and films by residents and nonprofits. This educates and informs residents about their town, their government, and each other, building community in Amherst and drawing residents to release stereotypes and biases of one another.

We hereby request the Town Manager appropriate $250,000 to Amherst Media for the construction of its new facility that will continue to serve the broadest community possible.

Jim Lescault

Jim Lescault is Executive Director of Amherst Media

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